Nunc Minerva, postea Palas Atenea - First Wisdom, After War
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"Audi Iuppiter et patres nostros dique omnes caelstes vosque terrestres vosque inferni audite. Alea et nobis! Telborea ad portas!" Hear, O Jupiter, and you too, forefathers, and all the celestial, terrestrial and infernal gods, hear! Hear and help us. Telborea is at the gates!
- Count Tritus before the capitulation of Cavilla to the Emperor of Telborea
Romus et Remulus, Fabula Mysterium -- Romus and Remulus, the Untold Story
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(...)the twins borne by Ilia, the daughter of the preceding king Numitor, from the embrace of the war-god Mars were condemned by King Amulius, the present ruler of Alba, to be cast into the river. The king's servants took the children and carried them from Alba as far as the Tiber on the Palatine Hill; but when they tried to descend the hill to the river, to carry out the command, they found that the river had risen, and they were unable to reach its bed. The tub with the children was therefore thrust by them into the shallow water at the shore. It floated for a while; but the water promptly receded, and knocking against a stone, the tub capsized, and the screaming infants were upset into the river mud.
They were heard by a she-wolf who had just brought forth and had her udders full of milk; she came and gave her teats to the boys, to nurse them, and as they were drinking she licked them clean with her tongue. Above them flew a woodpecker, which guarded the children, and also carried food to them. The father was providing for his sons: for the wolf and the woodpecker are animals consecrated to father Mars. This was seen by one of the royal herdsmen, who was driving his pigs back to the pasture from which the water had receded. Startled by the spectacle, he summoned his mates, who found the she-wolf attending like a mother to the children, and the children treated her as their mother. The men made a loud noise to scare the animal away; but the wolf was not afraid; she left the children, but not from fear; slowly, without heeding the herdsmen, she disappeared into the wilderness of the forest, at the holy site of Faunus, where the water gushes from a gully of the mountain. Meanwhile the men picked up the boys and carried them to the chief swineherd of the king, Faustulus, for they believed that the gods did not wish the children to perish. But the wife of Faustulus had just given birth to a dead child, and was full of sorrow. Her husband gave her the twins, and she nursed them; the couple raised the children, and named them Romulus and Remus.
Grown to manhood, the youths Romulus and Remus protected the herds against the attacks of wild animals and robbers. Later still, the youths resolved to found a city in the region where they had been exposed and brought up. A furious dispute arose upon the question of which brother was to be the ruler of the newly erected city, for neither twin was favored by the right of primogeniture, and the outcome of the bird oracle they consulted was equally doubtful. The saga relates that Remus jumped over the new wall, to deride his twin, and Romulus became so much enraged that he slew his brother. Romulus then usurped the sole mastery, and the city was named Rome after him.
Yet this is not an accurate rendition of the tale. While it is true that Remus jumped over the river Tiber, he did not do so to spite his brother, nor was he subsequently slain. The twins did quarrel but following their heated debate an agreement was settled upon. "Brother Romulus," Remus uttered, "I doth consent these lands to your sovereign rule. If thou wilst not co-rule with brother of blood, know that the blood of Mars will dillute in thy veins and thou wilst die a mortal man. Thy city and thy people shall prosper, but in time, they, too, wilt wither and wane. I doth take leave of thee, brother mine, to found my city on different pastures where the celestial and magickal doth still rule." And so Remus sprang, leaping over river Tiber, taking with him a single man and a single woman. Stirred by Remus' words, father Mars opened unto Remus the door to his own realm, a realm of magic, and when Remus landed on his feet his eyes did not behold the land which he knew, nor the river Tiber, but a rich soil in a realm far removed from the world of ordinary men. Remus turned to the man and woman whom he had brought with him, and thusly spoke unto them: "I give thee, Tella, and thee, Boreus, these lands to settle and populate. Always thou shalt honour the gods, and in the name of the gods thy lands will prosper." Tella and Boreus, humbled by the command of Remus, and the honour he had bestowed upon them, agreed. They were the first man and wife, and their children, and the children of their children, to honour Tella and Boreus, so named their land: Telborea."
"Even the mightiest of empires have humble nascent beginnings and the Telborea Imperium was no different. Yes, we trace our bloodlines to the Gods themselves, a chosen and physically, socially and intellectually superior people to the lesser, biped ape races of our world such as as the dwarves and elves, but even so, before our empire arose to prominence and before our civilisation expanded to illuminate the rest of the barbaric world, we were but a single city.
Telborea was once a city state amount many of others on the mainland of Telan. The name of this vast landmass was recently decided, while the city of Telborea is very old. It was only recently that visitors from other realms made it to the continent by ship, while Telborea itself sent out explorers who reported back news of island civilizations and other continents.
Telborea co-existed with many other settlements in the fertile hill country of central Telan Continent for half a century. In an area known for trade of iron, bronze, clay, timber and stone by river and sea ports, Telborea was exceptionally well located at the river Oloar, there where the river spilled into the sea. The city soon expanded to both sides of the river, and its chief architects were forced to learn to build bridges to tie the city together. Traders from upstream came through to sell their wares and spend their coin in the city and brought with them news of different cultures, cultures of the plains, the highlands, the mountains and the valleys, of many gods that were honoured there and many inventions in the arts of architecture, philosophy and metallurgy. Roads from Telborea were hardly more than tracks often travelled by cattle herders, but the Telborean merchants travelled them at great risk to sell their goods to those of its neighbors who lacked their own ports in exchange for raw materials. Talborea, with both a sea and river port, enjoyed a tremendous traffic in trade.
It is then not so strange that Telborean merchants rose to great prominence, effectually acting as a ruling council. Telborea had been ruled for five hundred years by the soft hands of merchants, who hired private cohorts to patrol the streets to maintain law and order. Their council was the main political power of Telborea, with only one tribune from the working people of the city and one from the animal herders and farmers in the surrounding country to consider before dictating the future of the city. They became aware of Telborea's rising prominence and power, and the promise of great prosperity. Prices of goods were continuously raised, and the neighbouring settlements had few alternatives but to pay, funnelling Telborea with a steady income of raw materials for a pittance in compensation. The profit was used to enrich the merchants, but also for public works such as statues, public baths and the first Great Telborean Library. Learned men began to record cultures from the inland cities, assimilating knowledge and mathematical practices hitherto unknown to Telborean academics. The most significant investment however was in the productions of weapons and armour. The merchant elite anticipated a future when one of their neighbours would no longer endure the Telborean monopoly on trade along the river, and across the sea, and prepared the city accordingly.
The Telborean trading partner to the west, the port city of Varinth, finally grew weary of the Telborean trade practices. The Varinthian council mustered its soldiers, armed and armoured with the bronze that was the main commodity of the town. In response, Telborea mustered their own legions, the first if its kind, the Legius Rubeus - the Red Legion, a name in honour to the God of War, Ares, from whom we are descended. The two armies met in the rough hill country between the two cities and the battle turned into an indecisive massacre where countless lives were lost to fatigue and confusion. For many years to follow Telborea and Varinth skirmished in the hills and across rivers, neither side gaining a decisive advantage. The Telboreans were better armed for skirmishing, but the Varinthians with their bronze spears would often hold the line and push back any larger advance with lethal effect. The tide of war turned with the rise of a young tribune to military command. Marcus Artorius, a Telborean citizen with no wealth or noble ancestry, gained command of the legion after the death of three nobleborn merchantson officers in a minor battle. Under his command the Legius Rubeus employed alternate tactics, favouring speed and agility to circumvent and destroy much of the Varinthian army. Following the battle at the Stellatian Hill where the Varinthian force was utterly destroyed, he was hailed by the Telborean troops, hardened veterans after years of war, as Imperator, emperor, unifier, conqueror, first of his name, eternally may his name resound with glory. Emperor Marcus quickly marched on Varinth and the city, unable to withstand a cunning siege, capitulated. Varinth, once a powerful rival, becoming the first puppet state to Talborea. The city was installed with a Telborean governor, a viceroy, to oversee the annexation. Following the annexation the first stone-laid road was built on the continent, between Talborea and Varinth, to fascilitate easy traffic of goods and troops.
The ruling council of Telborea celebrated the victory. With the road being constructed and the copper mine of Varinth under Telborean control trade flourished like never before and bronze ornaments and statues began to adorn the Telborean temples and villas. Marcus Artorius, bestowed with the title of Emperor, was at this time mostly a figurehead, a renowned soldier with a gilded title, unable to effect the stirrings of the Senate, where the power remained entrenched with the merchants. The merchants failed to notice, however, the popularity of the Imperator, and in their ignorance, slowly but gradually, like sands siphoned between fingers, the balance of power shifted. The common man came to see their military commander as a saviour and conqueror, a man who could protect their interests. In the meantime the gap of wealth was wedged deeper between the commoner and the wealthy merchants, ushering many public revolts. Emperor Marcus was granted the perfect opportunity to dismantle the Senate and reinvent it with himself at the front. Merchants remained influential, but new trading regulations mitigated their power and influenced, and the new centralised government ensured all wealth was funnelled centrally, then appropriately distributed. Talborea, once a small city with a nascent economy, had risen from the ashes of civil turmoil, like a phoenix, emerging more powerful than ever. To commemorate this, to etch the newfound glory in the hearts of people, native citizens as well as enemies, another legion was founded, the Phoenix Legion. Today not a man or woman on the Telan Continent does not fear the flaming legion. City after city fell to its coordinated might, feeding land and people to the Telborean Empire. Mighty Cinai, distant Vizeliacum, unconquerable Arpinum, entrenched Ambracia, all fell to the might of Telborea.
With the vast population, wealth and military strength of Telborea none of the remaining free city states could stand against them, and the uniform rule of the Imperator of Telborea expanded to include the entire Telan landmass. The myriad of independent cities and small kingdoms were soon to have one law, one currency and one ruler. The Imperial Order of Telborea was formed to fight as the Imperator's vanguard in battle, and to guard the burgeoning imperum against moral decay and unregulated magic. For decades the Telboreans built roads, aqueducts and trade forts throughout their lands, increasing their prosperity and military prowess as natural resources were exploited at a greater rate than ever and populations kept growing. Emperors rose and died, replaced by sons or adopted sons (men chosen not out of birthright, but political and military acumen). At the death of Imperator Gemillus Varus, Taurus Victor was chosen as successor. The young man moved the Telborea Imperium into action once more, leading its legions north, across the sea, to finally bring the savage northern isles under heel. Except the free city of Cavilla, barricaded between mountains, the Telborea had conquered the whole known world."
Telborea Imperium - Overview
The Empire of Telborea or the Telborea Imprerium, is the most powerful empire in the history of the known world. Its birth city is located in the central part of the Telan Continent and boasts both a thriving economy and a strong, well-trained army with talented commanders. It has expanded mostly through the conquest of foreign countries, which were then turned into provinces of the Imperium. The Imperium's inhabitants believe that "real" Telboreans are only those born in the heart of the Imperium, and not those born in the conquered provinces.
The provinces are ruled by either stewards or kings (in cases in which a king willingly surrenders, he retains his throne but is subject to the Imperium or just a vassal). The Imperium has expanded throughout the years, conquering new lands and going as far to the north as the Northern Isles and the capitol of Gudhem, God's Home, during the reign of Emperor Taurus Victor.
The major religion in the Imperium is the cult of the Great Sun - Sol Invictus/Apollo/Helius, depending on culture.
The Pantheon of Telborea is a massive fortified temple situated on one of the hills of the City of Telborea. An elite order of specially trained knights, the Templarii Imperialis, stand guard day and night to protect the sanctuary of the Gods, but the Pantheon is open to the public as a rule. The only occasion on which the massive bronze gates are locked is at the death of an Emperor, at which time the priests practice esoteric rites to the Gods of the Underworld to ensure the dead Emperor's safe passing to the realm of the dead. Within the outer stone walls, the main structure is housed. It is a vast hall in which the image of every deity accepted into the official cult of the Imperium is housed. Although most deities have separate temples throughout the Imperium, the Pantheon symbolises the unity of the gods and their synergy with the Emperor as he has a statue in the centre of the hall. The statue is replaced every time the Imperial authority is passed into new hands.
Coat of Arms
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Magic and the Imperium
Magic is highly regulated in the Imperium. Because wizards and sorcerers are able to render mountains asunder with but a wave of hand and utterance of word, their power must, by necessity, be curtailed. Nobleborn sons and daughters with magical aptitude are afforded a semblance of freedom, yet even they are beholden to an Arcane Council that oversees all arcane conduct and stipulates laws to ensure compliance. All mages, except maleficarum renegades or the wealthiest of sons or daughters, are tutored in arcane asylums and subsequently required to service the Senate under stern supervision.
Mages who do not comply or who dabble in forbidden arts are persecuted by the Templarii Imperialis, the most ruthless and powerful military sect of the Imperium.
Non-Human Races and the Imperium
Any race that is not human enjoys, at best, second-rate citizenship in the Imperium. Elves are considered to be decadent loiterers, dwarves are filthy subterranean savages and gnomes and halflings are considered, to the sympathetic Telborean, as children, and to the purist Telborean as undeveloped, degenerate humans. In many cities even slaves enjoy more privileges than non-humans; a man without means may, after all, enter into servitude and be afforded reasonable benefits. Non-humans are generally sentenced to mines, sewers, harbours or roadwork duty. They dwell in segregated city slums where few know to eke out even a semblance of a living.
Like renegade mages, non-compliant non-humans are persecuted by the Templarii Imperialis.
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Mud and Grime, City of Decay, Journal Entry, Cassia Aurelia Candidus
"I step into the city known as Raven's Watch and I find myself wishing I had never left the shores of my lands. Gone are the grand libraries, the pantheons, the forums, the amphitheaters, the marble promenades, the gilded mausoleums. Gone is the light of civilisation, replaced by barbarity. Ramshackle taverns, putrid brothels, soot-stained roofs and cracked domes, that is what greets my eyes now. That, and a myriad of monstrous creatures that, apparently, move around unmolested; men and women with wings and tails and horns, greenskinned gnomes they call goblins, minotaurs and nati infernalis, infernal children. Who enforces law, here? Is there law at all?
I meet a man who allegedly presides over this cesspit of villainy. He calls himself Krel. Some of his men spin unto me some self-righteous romance, quoting humanitarianism. They tell me this putrid settlement is the last bastion of liberty; it's the rest of Thain that's putrified, morally. Theirs is a city of tolerance, freedom and racial emancipation. I tell these men, these thugs, that no rhetorics can mask debauchery and depravity. Degeneracy is degeneracy, the degree is arbitrary. It is a sickness, a festering wound, and like a festering wound, it cannot be mended, only clinically purged. But I do not remark the latter. I bid them farewell and take my leave.
Oh, Telborea, oh grand light of civilisation, where is your light now..."
Being an absolutely true account of the liberation of the town of Cavilla from the grip of the incorrigible anti-imperialist and non-human menace by the Templarri Imperialis under the famous Cassia Aurelia Candidus, the Light of the Imperium. Penned by your humble servant Gaius Decimus.
Cavilla, Summer 59
What can my unworthy pen set down upon the subject of that great heart, that good friend, that magnificent presence, that dauntless explorer, proud stateswoman, peerless swordswoman, accomplished commander, woman of unwavering faith whom the Gods cherich like no other, noted connoisseur, occassional songstress and warrior poet, the famous templar and scourge of all that is depraved and non-human, Cassia Aurelia Candidus? She was a woman of great parts, and curves, of extraordinary abilities both mental and physical, of a keen mind and a quickness to action characteristic of the fox, but with a sensitivity and mercy of which the gentlest dove would have been envious. She was a giving friend, quick to laugh and generous to a fault, but an implacable enemy, loved and feared equally across the known world, none of the diverse lands of which were unknown to her. And yet, in spite of grand achievements at her back to fill five famous lifetimes, she held not a trace of arrogance or vanity, was always challenging herself to do better, to reach further, to aim higher, and, though her conduct had in the main, across her dozens of successful campaigns, been unimpeachable, was frequently troubled by what she saw as the regrets and disappointments of the past. 'Regrets,' as she once told this unworthy reporter, with a boundless sadness plainly stamped into that noble visage, 'are the price of crusading.' Though she was, at the time I was fortunate enough to make her acquaintance, approaching a near forty years of age, she showed no sign of infirmity. A lifetime of sword-dancing, breathing the clean air and living a life free of low habits made her appear no older than a hale and athletic twenty-two, with as full and lustrous a shimmer-gold head of hair as any girl of sixteen could boast. According to this humble reporter's humble opinion, she was possessed of an extremely enthralling visage and a godly frame entirely undiminished, and unblemished, by the years in power and allure. She took drink but rarely and only in the strictest moderation, for the awful depravities she had seen visited by drunken soldiers upon an innocent populace during her long career were terrible, and, as she once told me, 'No devil is more dangerous to a soldier than that which occupies the bottle.'
On the occasion the details of which I am about to relate, and which well illustrates the character of the woman, Cassia Aurelia and her Imperial Templars had been employed by His August Imperial Sovereign to root out the ringleaders of the vile rebellion in Upper Telan which culminated in the horrifying massacre at Cavilla. To this righteous purpose, the Templarii Imperalis, numbering some two hundred brave souls, were now sworn, and, having sworn, they would achieve or die in the attempt. Perhaps you have heard lurid tales of the brutishness of the templar kind? Banish such thoughts from your minds, dear readers, at least in so far as they bear upon the happy chapter presided over by the famous Cassia Aurelia! For these men, and women, though born under diverse skies, speaking diverse tongues, coming from high and low, near and far, representing every colour and creed to be found within the known world, were as faithful and loyal to one another, and their faith and unto their Imperator, honoured be His August Name, as any tight-knit band of countrymen. Once their notary had prepared a paper of engagement and the noble Cassia set her flourishing signature upon it, they put aside by one accord all other considerations and were bound to the mission as staunchly as the Praetorii are bound to the defence of His August Imperator's royal person, and no entreaty, no offers of golden hoard, land or title, no rewards earthly or divine could persuade them to deviate from their promised purpose.
The town of Cavilla was one of those pioneer settlements that at that time flourished in the rough land of the mountain reaches of Upper Telan. It was well built of firm timber and, though simple and lacking any ornament, was cunningly situated, wedged between two mountains, clean and orderly, pleasing to the eye, and ringed by a stout palisade constructed by the good townsfolk as protection against the dread and degenerate non-humans, who had for some years previous visited terrible slaughter upon the defenceless settlers. Now those vile non-humans, foulest of all the degenerate and libidinous elves, conspiring with corrupt aldermen and an unlawful city council, had installed themselves within the walls of this once-fair city. It was towards this fair and previously peaceable settlement that Cassia now piercingly gazed, her womanly brow furrowed by deep concern and righteous outrage. 'The rebels and non-humans blemish this fair town, at least a hundred strong,' said Knight-Captain Marcellus, springing down from his lathered charger, his auburn locks bouncing upon his broad shoulders. He had been a tribune to the most renowned Phoenix Legion, but so singularly attached to the welfare of the Telborean realm that, when peace with the fell Northmen was declared, he instantly resigned his commission to seek to repair new injustices. 'They have, through base treachery, taken the townsfolk hostage, are perpetrating hourly outrages upon their innocent persons, and threaten to kill the women and defenceless babes should any man attempt to deliver the settlement from their tyranny.' 'Are these men or monsters?' spoke Knight-Lieutenant Antonius, a cultured Varinthian gentleman of the highest breeding, slender and well formed, and sporting an old wound beneath the eye which lent a rugged flare to his goodly countenance. 'I must go down there myself, curse them!' Cassia's lustrous tresses trembled with fair indignation as her bright emerald eye, humbling even the finest-cut gem of that desired green sort, directed its perilous fire toward the infested settlement. 'And negotiate the release of the hostages. I can allow no possibility of failure. If one innocent man, woman or child were to be harmed …' And here, friends, I must report that the brave Cassia, the gentle creature, dashed a womanly tear from her cheek at the very thought of injury to the minor. 'My fragile conscience could not bear the weight of it. I will warn these rebels and non-humans in no uncertain terms that—' 'No!' spoke Knight-Captain Marcellus. 'Your keenness to spare bloodshed does you much credit, fairest domina, but the dread non-humans cannot be trusted to behave according to the rules of war. They lack your unimpeachable good character and I will not hear of you placing yourself in their power. I, the templars and indeed the imperium cannot afford to lose so inspiring a leader as you have proved, and daily continue to prove, yourself to be. You have a company of bold and righteous men all eager to carry out your order, any one of whom, I cannot doubt, would be more than willing to risk their lives if it might spare those of the defenceless. Let one of them be sent to this admirable purpose.'
Following this exhaustive speech, volunteers stepped forward instantly to lend their strong arms to the noble project. Cassia wiped aside a second womanly tear, holding out her arms towards them and speaking, 'My brothers and sisters! My brave siblings!' and pressing her strong hands to her noble breast in gratitude to them, and to the Fates, for furnishing her with such men and women. It was one Tiberius on whom the great woman's eye now alighted, a scout of long experience and Cinaian extraction but tall and of a noble bearing, no doubt one among those people who had rather fled their homeland than to oppose His August Imperator when that city declared to rebel, a man who laughed at fear almost as loudly as the great Cassia herself. 'Offer the non-humans fair treatment if they abandon their cowardly kidnap and surrender themselves to imperial justice,' said fair Cassia. 'And warn them they shall taste the full measure of my wrath should they harm a hair upon the heads of their hostages. Do this for me, brother Tiberius, and you will be rewarded.' 'Domina, your respect is all the reward I could desire,' answered the scout, and the two templars embraced. Taking the notary of the Chapter with him to arrange the terms of the rebels' surrender, brave Tiberius began the long and lonely walk down the barren hillside towards the bastion of the enemy and, presently, was seen to be admitted and the tall gates of the settlement firmly shut behind him. An eerie silence now ensued while the Chapter awaited the result of Tiberius' negotiations, hoping for a happy outcome and yet prepared entirely for the bloody alternative. One could, after all, not expect anything less from the foul hands of elves.
It was as tense a passage of time as your abject reporter has ever borne witness to. The wind still whispered through the trees and across the dry shrub, the careless birds still warbled their morning song from the branches, but every man gathered there surely occupied the very extremities of nervous anxiety. Every man, that is, save one! 'Ah, that moment before battle is joined!' spoke Cassia, prostrate in the long grass above the town like a lioness waiting to spring, her eye glittering and her fair fists clenched in anticipation of the work that was to come. 'The delicious calm before the storm of steel! Perhaps a man should not be keen to engage in such bloody business as ours, but the necessity! It has always set my veins to thrill, to uproot injustice! Does it not yours, Gaius?' Your humble servant must at this juncture confess a touch of understandable reticence, and could answer only in the negative. I, after all, had not the long experience, the consummate skill at arms, nor the natural immunity to fear with which the noble Cassia was furnished. She, after all, was Cassia Aurelia Candidus, the Light of the Imperium. She laughed in the face of fear! But no laughter escaped those well-formed lips now. 'Something is amiss,' she murmured as the time dragged out, and the men immediately stiffened for action. They knew from long experience that fair Cassia was possessed of a special sense for danger almost magical, a sixth sense if you will, beyond the range of perception of the common man. Whether this was a thing learned by long and painful trials or an inborn talent I cannot say, but this humble reporter observed its operation on several occasions and its efficacy was not to be denied.
Springing to her feet with the agility of an acrobat, and an instant later into her gilded saddle, the Commander-Templar roared, 'To arms!' Within a twinkling, several score men were mounted and pouring down the hillside towards Cavilla, their deep and passionate war cries resounding across the picturesque valley. A timely signal given by mirror induced another detachment, carefully sited in trees on the far side of the settlement, to begin their attack at the same moment, such that not one rebel could possibly escape this deadly pincer. In battle the Chapter worked with the smoothness, precision and perfect accuracy of a priceless watch, with Cassia the master watchmaker, each of two hundred templars giving themselves utterly to their place in the grand machine. How many heartbeats did it take for the speeding horses to reach the fence of the town? I cannot categorically state the number, but inconceivably few! How many more for the dauntless men of the Chapter to swarm over the defences, crushing the cowardly resistance at the walkways? But a handful more! I will not enter too deeply into the sordid details of the combat that ensued, in part because your humble observer, fearing for his very life, was kept at some remove from the hottest fighting, in part to spare the delicate sensibilities of my female readers, and in part because to describe such animal actions, born from the calloused hands of non-human degenerates, blow by blow, ill befits a cultured readership. Let me only note that I observed the Commander-Templar, the fair Cassia, in combat herself and, though kitten in the company of her friends, she was a tigress and more in the presence of her enemies! Never has such wondrous dexterity been seen, nor such deadly facility with a blade! At one stage this reporter witnessed, with his own two eyes, the remarkable sight of two four non-humans killed with one thrust of Cassia's flashing blade! Run through. Nay! Impaled. Nay! Spitted, I say, like four writhing cubes of meat upon a skewer. The gushing blood watered the windblown grit of the street, the quivering innards of the rebels laid open to the skies, with blood-curdling shrieks and womanly wails for mercy not given. Their intestines were unwound, eyes punctured, brains dashed upon the wattle walls of Caviila to be left as food for the flies. Fleshy bodies were savagely ripped asunder by unforgiving steel to divulge their vermilion cargoes of still-writhing offal upon the merciless dust! 'Food for Ares!' as brave and honourable Cassia was wont to say. Oh, such the ugly truth of war, which we, the civilised, must not flinch from a full description of! 'We must protect the townsfolk!' bellowed Knight-Lieutenant Antonius over the noise of combat, who, though born in Cinai, had learned from Cassia a mercy and respect for the weak entirely foreign to his dusky race. At most times a gentle giant, the ire of his simple mind was fully inflamed by the possibility of injury to the helpless and now he fought like an enraged elephant. Though it felt an age to this reporter, such was the righteous ferocity of the Chapter that the combat was finished in but a few savage moments, the cowardly rebels utterly routed, destroyed and put to the sword, without – oh, happy chance and vindication of their cause by fate – a single injury to the Chapter. Cassia had let fall retribution upon the base curs of non-human and anti-imperialst breeding with such terrible speed – no more slowly than does the brooding storm smite the earth with blinding lightning – that they had not time to visit the promised massacre upon the townsfolk, and each and every precious hostage was released smiling from bondage to be happily reunited with their tearful families.
The Fall of Cavilla -- An Alternate Account
Cavilla, Summer 59
Rel, short for Reluvethel, ran. It was hardly the first time. He had spent half his life running away from things. Most notably humans. But he had never run like this. He ran as though hell yawned at his back. It did. The ground shook again. Light flared in the night, at the corner of Rel's eye, and he flinched. A moment later came the thunderous boom, so loud it made his ears ring. Fire shot up above the buildings to his left, mad arms of it, reaching out and scattering liquid flame across the Upper City of Cavilla. A piece of stone the size of a man’s head thudded into the road just in front of him, bounced across his path and smashed through a wall in a cloud of dust. Smaller stones rained down, pinging and rattling. Rel ran on, heedless. If imperial fire plunged from the heavens and ripped him to specks that could never be found, there was nothing he could do. Precious few would mourn him. One little drip in an ocean of tragedy. He could only hope the Gods had chosen him for saving, even if he knew elves were chosen for the mines or the quarries, a fate thrice-worse than death. Still, he knew he did not want to die. He reeled to a stop against a wall, caught by a sudden coughing fit, his chest raw from breathing smoke. From days of breathing smoke. 'The Templarii fight with honour', he had once heard someone say. Lies. They had been cannonading the city for days. His eyes ran with tears. From the dust. From the fear. From the way his people were treated. From everything. He looked back the way he had come. The walls of the Upper City, broken battlements cut out black against the fire. Men struggled there, tiny figures lit red. It was hopeless. It had been hopeless for days. It was hopeless from the start; no-one resisted the emperor and lived. But still they fought. Perhaps to protect what was theirs. Their property, their family, their way of life. Perhaps they fought out of love. Perhaps out of hate. Perhaps there was nothing else left. Rel scuttled down a rubbish-strewn side street, tripped on a fallen beam and skinned his knees, staggered to the corner, one hand up as a feeble shield against the heat of a burning building, flames crackling, smoke roiling skywards into the night. Fire, fire everywhere. I have seen hell, that pompous human historian Gaius Decimus said, and it is a great city under siege. Cavilla had been like hell for weeks. And why? Just because some kind-hearted councilor had taken in a couple thousand starving elves and dwarves and declared his city independent of the imperium's iron-fist of tyranny!? Compassion at the penalty of destruction; what had the world come to?
Rel saw figures crowding about a door, a man swinging an axe, the sound of wood splintering. Imperial troops somehow broken through the wall already? Or looters taking their chance to snatch something while there was something still to snatch? Rel supposed he could hardly blame them. He'd snatched plenty in his time, but mostly out of necessity. Nobody would employ an elf. And what did blame mean now, anyway? When there is no law, there is no crime. He scurried on, keeping low, torn sleeve across his mouth. You would never have known that his tunic had been white. It was as frayed and filthy now as the beggar's rags he had worn before they granted his kind amnesty in Cavilla, stained with ash and dirt and blood, his own and that of those he had tried to help. Those he had failed to help. All around Rel houses were blackened shells, bare beams showing like the ribs of desert carcasses, trees scorched stumps, heaps of rubble spilled across the cracked roadways. He kept the rock ahead of him, the lights of the Citadel perched at its top, caught a glimpse of one of the Temple of Divinities' slender spires above a fallen roof, and hurried on. Fire raged all across the city, but no more fell from the sky. That only made Rel more fearful. When the fire stopped falling, the templars came. Always he was running from templars. Rel looked around. There had been a market here, once, he recalled, where rich folk had bought meat. Only a few blackened arches of it remained. He had begged here, not long ago, hands stretching out, as his kind were wont to do. And there, he had kissed Vaeleria at night beside the fountain. They were happy, thinking they were finally afforded some semblance of normality. But the promise of Cavilla, a free city, was as false-ringing as a the butcher stroking his livestock and telling it all would be alright right before the axe fell. Rel should have known better. Now the fountain was cracked, choked with ashes. Vaeleria? Who could say? It had been a beautiful place. A proud street in a proud city. All gone, and for what? 'Is this your plan?' he whispered at the sky. But the Gods rarely answered.
'Help me,' came a hissing voice. 'Help me.' A woman lay in the rubble beside him. He had almost stepped on her as he ran past. A fragment from an imperial bomb had struck her, or perhaps from a burning building. Her neck was scorched and blistered, some of her hair burned away. Her shoulder was a ruin, arm twisted behind her. He could not tell what was torn cloth and what torn flesh. She smelled like cooking meat. A smell that made Rel's empty stomach growl and then made him want to be sick a moment later. Her throat clicked with every breath and something bubbled in her chest. Her eyes were wide and dark in her black-spattered face. 'Oh, Gods,' whispered Rel. He did not know where to begin. There was nowhere to begin. 'Help me,' she whispered again, clutching at him, her eyes on his. 'There's nothing I can do,' croaked Rel. 'I'm sorry.' 'No, no, please—' 'I'm sorry.' He cried. Why did he cry? She was a human. Had her kind lamented the deaths of his people, the progressive genocide? Would they lament the elves that would surely die here, in Cavilla? He peeled her fingers away, then clutched at them again, indecisive, lost, tried not to look into her eyes. 'Gods have mercy on you.' Though it seemed plain that They had none. 'I'm sorry! I'm so so sorry!' Rel stood. He turned away. He retched. He wanted to lie there, next to the woman, to die with her. But he went on. As her cries faded behind him, he wondered whether he should he go back. He stood trembling, breathing hard, trapped between right and wrong, between sense and stupidity, between life and death. He looked over his shoulder, back the way he had come. Flames, and buildings lit in the garish colours of flames, and against the flames he saw black shapes moving. The slender shadows of swords and spears, the tall, red-maned helmets of the Templarii Imperialis. And was it a trick of the shimmering haze, or could he see another figure there? A woman's shape, stately and imperious, swaggering forward in golden armour, a glimpse of golden hair shining. She was shouting orders, pointing at an Elf who was immediately put to the sword. Fear clutched at Rel's throat and he fell, scrambled up, ran. The mindless impulse of the child grown up on the streets. Of the rabbit that sees the hawk's shadow. He hardly knew what there was to live for, but he knew he did not want to die. Wheezing, coughing, legs burning, he struggled up the cracked steps to the Great Temple. He felt a moment of relief as the familiar façade came into view, even though he knew it would not be long until the templars flooded into this square. He hurried across to the looming gates, ashes whirling past, burning papers fluttering down on the hot wind, thumped at the door until his fist hurt, called out to the priests name until his throat was raw. Surely the templars would not come here? Surely they would not breach sacred grouns? A small door within the door was pulled suddenly open and he scrambled through, the bar swung down behind him with a reassuring finality. Safety.
Seventy-two hours later, the whole city of Cavilla was raised to the very foundations. Amid the rubble-ruin of the once sacred Temple of the Divinities, the body of an elf, of many elves, were recovered. One wore a once-white tunic. In his dead hand he clutched a handkerchief. Stitched in the cloth were elven letters that read the name: Vaeleria.
The Butcher of Cavilla, Journal Entry, Cassia Aurelia Candidus
"She looks me in the eye, my dear Rita, and reiterates her question: 'We must embrace our past and be defined by it. We must find pride in it. What is it that you hide that plunges you to such unbidden depths?' Next to Rita stands Eluvial. Like Rita, he is an Elf. Some hours before that, Narade, also an Elf. What can I say? The truth? That I am Cassia Aurelia Candidus, once of the noble Templarii Imperlias, a servant to the one true Imperator Maximus, the saviour and liberator of the Telan people. Do I also say my liege is a surpassing tyrant on whose behalf I have committed genocide of such proportions that my name will forevermore be synonymous with the butchery of Cavilla, a thousand non-humans, mostly Elves, put to the sword. My sword. Men and women, yes, but also the old and the young. Much too young.
'A radiant golden knight. How proud and brilliant you look.' I do? Is this how I seem to the world, shining and resplendent? May Hades swallow me whole. May Sol extinguish my light and cast me upon the rocks. I deserve not radiance. I deserve not admiration. My companions are not pride and glory, they have not been so for a long time. My heart and conscience is a dark, barren and infertile landscape. Nothing can grow upon it, and may nothing ever will. Sometimes I think of death, that I deserve nothing less. But that, I think, is a coward's escape. I need to repay unto the world what injustice I have wrought upon it. But how? Where do I start...
"Who are the Templarii Imperialis, you wonder? Folk like you and yours, I reply. The decent and decorous kind, gods-fearing men and women, dispellers of lies, doers of good. The kind who live according to the Gods' Laws, Nature's Laws and the laws that bid man be respecting unto his fellow. Those disgusted by the machinations of anti-imperialist usurpers, maleficarum mages and non-human degenerates. All that separates us from common folk is that we have the courage to take up arms, to defend the sacred sites of the Gods, to defend our lands, to defend you, from evil, to slice out the gangrene that eats us from within.
We derive no pride or gratification from our deeds, only a humble contendedness that we have pleased the Gods. We care not for wealth, recognition or land. We have no forts or estates. Though the Gods-fearing Imperator, honoured be His August Name, supports us with his gold, we have not sworn him nor any other ruler any oath, although His will often aligns with ours. We are beholden to the Divinities alone. We only serve Unconquerable Sun, the Light of Edification and Civilisation.
Who can join us? Any who is right of soul and sound of body. You can find us in every larger city in the Imperium. We will give you board, lodging and a weapon. We will explain how to spot the tell-tale signs of evil – birthmarks in strange and arcane shapes, smooth skin on a matrona or patronus aged more than thirty springs, and talking beast-familiars kept by magickers as pets, to name but a few. We will show you how to defend yourself from witchcraft, how to tame and snuff out magic elements with a focused exertion of will. We will instruct you how to squeeze the sinners' darkest secrets out of the with divine fervor, and how to grant them cleansing death.
Stand up for the Gods, for your land, for your conscience, divest yourself of sin and fear, and serve a just cause to root up the degenerate elements of the land. Join the Templars today!"
- Cassia Aurelia Candidus
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Another Tattered Pamphlet, Faerun, Somewhere, Unspecified Date
To ride above redressing human wrongs, To speak no slander, no, nor listen to it, To honour his own words as if his God's, To lead sweet lives in purest chastity, To love one maiden only, And worship her by years of noblest deeds, Such is a paladin's pledge, such is his life's compass.
- Prelate Wessalen, Order of the Most Noble Radiant Heart
"Thou seekest to serve the Triad and wishest to know what is required of thee? Knowest thee that the path to justice is one of straightforward step, yet one not easily executed? Declarest thee unto thyself, and the Triad, that thine is a heart void of evil and corruption, declarest thee unto thyself, and the Triad, than thine is a faith of unwavering conviction, singularly dedicated to the Triad. Declarest thee unto thyself, and the Triad, that thine is a sword that strikest against all evil and all the infernal, unholy and unrighteous men and gods. Declarest thee all this, unto thyself and the Triad, and thou wilst be weighed and judged.
Then declarest thee unto thyself, and the Triad, to always obey the Code of the Triad, for all time, until the end-time.
Truth, honour, and loyalty are thy highest calling. Never deviate from these principles, even should they lead to thy mortal demise death.
Never question the Triad. Thy loyalty to thy God, to thy True God, will be put to the test in a time of trial. Remainest thee steadfast and loyal during that time and all shall be achieved.
Aid those that thou canst, and neither ask nor expect reward. Thy valour and honour will bring thee glory, bring glory unto the Triad.
Thou wilst not suffer evil or corruption, for these are the greatest sins of mortals. Battle thee against these sins and those who commit them."
* * * * *
Thou shalt believe all that the Triad teaches, and shalt observe all Their directions, and shalt denounce all opposing deities. Thou shalt defend the Church of the Triad with all thy might, and strike at perverted grounds of Bane, Cyric and Gruumsh with equal fervour. Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them. Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy. Thou shalt make war against the Infidel followers of evil deities without cessation and without mercy. Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy duties as commanded of thee by the Triad, in line with the Teachings of the Church of the Triad. Thou shalt never lie, and shall remain faithful to thy pledged word. Thou shalt be generous, and give largess to all that have need. Thou shalt avoid avarice like the deadly pestilence and shalt embrace its opposite. Thou shalt keep thyself chaste for the sake of they whom the Triad has chosen for thee to love. Thou shalt only step foot in Temples dedicated to the Triad and their Holy allies, unless thy enemies seek sanctuary in an unholy temple, in which case it is thy duty to cleanse the place of their filth. Thou art a Paladin of the Triad, one of their beloved few. Remember this in all that thy do. Thou art especially blessed.
Not a Paladin, Journal Entry, Cassia Aurelia Candidus
"The men and women of this foreign land are unanimous in their conviction: Surely, Cassia, you are a paladin. Surely, Cassia, you are the noble radiant knight come to deliver us from evil. But how could I be? How could I, in good conscience and as the Gods as my witnesses, commit to such uniformly blasphemous and sacrilegious code? The profanities have no end! Uphold the laws and duties of one God, elevate that God, and, in turn, besmirch and sully another? No, not besmirch and sully, oppose and violate! What backwards, ignorant and ill-bred thinking is this? What moral and spiritual degenerate worships Father Jupiter and, in doing so, throws mud at his children Minerva, Mars and Vulcan? No, I am not a paladin. I cringe at the mention of the word. I cringe at the barbaric, bestial religious customs of these foreign peoples.
I, Cassia Aurelia Candidus, have been born, am and will always be, whether upon the shores of my own land which I have deserted, or lands distant from my own, a templar. A servant of and unto the Gods, all the Gods. Good, evil, orderly, whimsical, who are we, mortals, to ascribe mortal virtues and flaws unto the Gods and judge Them according to our own base ideals? Gods are Gods, they all fulfil a divine purpose which we may occasionally glimpse, but never comprehend. O, Divinities, how perverted Your glory has become, here, on this foreign soil. I shall have to rediscover you anew. I shall upturn every rock and pebble on this island, look to every cloud and star, until Your fair visages greet me again. Not as your paladin. Never as your paladin. But as your templar."
The Twelve, Sol Invictus, Apollo & The Unconquerable Sun: A Short Guide to the Telborean Faith by Gaius Decimus
The faith of The Twelve is not only a religious institution throughout the Telborean Imperium; its influence is so pervasive that state and church are inextricably intertwined, the latter moulding the former more often than vice versa. Temples and shrines of The Twelve dot every city, town and village of the Telborean Imperium, and often even lonesome roads feature some semblance of shrine upon which the weary traveler may beseech the wisdom of the gods. Since the birth of our people and our great empire, the names of The Twelve were known to our lips, for, indeed, we sprang from their generous seed.
Sol Invictus, Lord Apollo: Lord of all things. The Unconquerable Sun, the birther of all things and illuminer of all paths. Presider of divine light and divine fire, the knower of all things and father of the heavens.
Jupiter: Telborean god of the sky, thunderstorms, lightning, weather and air. Also god of law, order, justice, governance and strength. Preserver of authority and lawful conduct. Husband of Juno.
Juno: Goddess of fertility, marriage and women. Protector and counsellor of Telborea.
Neptune: Prime god and ruler of the seas. The patron of sailors and the protector of Telborean ships.
Minerva: Goddess of wisdom, divine counsel and useful arts and crafts. Patron of Telborean sages and philosophers.
Mars: God of war, spring and justice. Patron of the Telborean Legions and divine father of Romulus and Remus from whom our people are directly descended.
Venus: Goddess of love and passion. The One Muse of the Telborean people.
Diana: Mother Moon and divine lady of the hunt.
Vulcan: God of fire and the forges. Patron of the Telborean smiths and craftsmen.
Vesta: Goddess of the home and the hearth. Matron of Telborea.
Mercury: Patron god of financial gain, commerce, eloquence and poetry, divination, travelers, boundaries, luck and trickery. Also the chief guide of souls to the underworld.
Ceres: Lady of the earth, goddess of agriculture and crops.
According to a legend, when the first Telborean men and women found purchase on their home continent, they came upon an abandoned site. Here they saw a strange glow emanating from a lonesome shrine. Inside they met an individual sitting near a great bowl of fire. Being asked about his personality, the enigmatic entity answered: I guard the Eternal Fire so the One Sun may ever shine; as long as it will flame in this place, so long you and your kin will endure - and then he disappeared.
The astonished Telboreans discerned a divine sign in that incident and designated some men to keep an eye on the fire. They came to acknowledge that the site had been blessed by the presence of a god; no other than Lord Apollo, the Unconquerable Sun. Those first men and women built a town around that most holy of shrines, and they dubbed that town Telborean. The mother city of all cities.
The Unconquerable Sun is a symbol of hope, enduring the misfortune, light pointing the way in darkness, heralding progress and a better tomorrow. Holy flame guards the city of Telborea from the forces of evil, non-human degenerates and blasphemous magic that could threaten its citizens. Soldiers and clergy both have adopted that holy symbol as a coat of arms: a blazing sun with the face of a man in the centre. Churches and temples are carved to portray that one prime symbol. And as long as the holy fire burns in Telborea, as long as the sun shines upon the heavens, Lord Sol will watch over his creation and steer them toward greatness.
Every morning, when the One Sun rises, men and women of the Telborean Imperium bow in gratitude and sing hymns unto their Lord:
"Hear golden deity, whose far reaching eye With broad survey, illumines all the sky. Self-born, unwearied in diffusing light, And to all eyes the mirror of delight: Originator of the seasons, with your fiery car And leaping horses, beaming light from far: With your right hand the source of morning light, And with your left the maker of the night. Agile and vigorous, truth-bearing Sun, Fiery and bright around the heavens you run. Foe to the cruel, but the good person's guide, Over steps auspicious you preside. Parent of the gods, of ages and of prosperous deeds, The world's commander, borne by lucid steeds, The world's all-searching, bearing light, Source of existence, pure and fiery bright Bearer of fruit, almighty creator of years, Agile and warm, whom every power reveres. Great eye of nature and the starry skies, Scorched with burning flames to set and rise Dispensing justice, lovely, golden beam The world's great centre, and over all supreme. Faithful defender, and the eye of right, Of steeds the ruler, and of life the light: With founding whip fiery steeds you guide, When in the car of day you glorious ride. Propitious on these mystic labours shine, And bless your suppliants with a life divine."
The Incongruence of Religion and The Twelve
The smoke rose to stifle the elf's nostrils, causing more than just an occasional bout of coughing. The old sage blinked to dispel the tears from his watering eyes. He looked down upon the gathered congregation. His voice was bereft of any sonorous quality, rasping and hoarse, but such hinderances did little to deter the old elf. When the smoke cleared a little and the elf was afforded a modicum of untainted air, he spoke out: "Forget, I ask, for once, the pointy ears of the person intoning these words to you. Dismiss my race and instead harken the message in my words. Should we, I ask of you, thus submit our life to religion, to gods and legends we cannot confirm, or should we interpret religion so that it serves our lives instead? There are as many schools as there are philosophers, as many stories as there are Telborean beings. And let us not forget elven beings, nor dwarven, halfling, gnomish ones, nor any other such sapient creature familiar with the quandaries of the soul. I, for my part, having survived now more than two hundred and twenty years, can swear with all certainty that there is no way to reconcile everyone at once, and what pleases one will provoke whingeing and sulking in another, and will undoubtedly cause a third to reach for his knife if it dares depart from his known, narrow world by so much as a hair. What, then, are we to do? How should we live? Why, as we like, as our soul urges, disregarding all the brayings of false prophets and blind preachers! In taverns and around the hearth we laugh and scoff at fairy tales and old wives’ legends, yet we believe the sun on the sky is alive and that it speaks truth and wisdom into the ears of a select privy few? Wake up, I say. Wake up from your ignorance and tear away the veil that has been pulled over your eyes. We elves are not your enemy. Dwarves, halfling, gnomes and other non-humans are not your enemies. Ignorance is your enemy. Lies and deceit are your enemies. Those that would have you believe in false prophets are your enemies, for they only spin legends and beliefs that prosper their own wealth." The old elf coughed.
He coughed again, violently. The flames rising under his feet were growing now and licking at his soles. Roped to the pyre, there was little the old man could do save twitch and cough, his speech denied continuation. His congregation, which, in reality, was just human rabble, did not hear or pay attention to a single word spoken by the old elf from the cackling of fire and the din of frenzied anticipation. This way, after all, a favourite plebeian spectacle: the burning of heretics and non-humans. Soon rotten fruit, vegetables, stones and even kindling was tossed at the old elf. "Burn the pointy-eared sinner! Burn the non-human degenerate! Burn the monster!" The crowd shouted in synchronous chanting. The elf cried and screamed in pain, and with him, the crowd cried and screamed in delight. Only one person remained still and quiet: the woman holding the torch. One word replayed in her mind, over and over: "Ask yourselves, when you pray, who answers your prayers? How can you know? How can you tell if it is an elven god, or a human? How can you know who answers your prayers?"
The Uncertainty of Faith, Journal Entry, Cassia Aurelia Candidus
"...how can you know who answers your prayers?" The man known as Seth von Hendricks spoke words that evoked to mind a memory of something long buried, long burned. And now, on this lone island so far removed from my homeland and my Lord Sol, who, indeed, hears my prayers? Does my Lord's vigilant eye extend to these foreign shores? Has my Lord, even on Telborean soil, ever been more than speculated belief? And should he have been real, should my powers have indeed come from that one radiant source, is it that same source that now harkens to my prayers, or is it someone or something else entirely? And, if so, who or what? I exiled myself from my own land and family in pursuit of redemption and truth, but here, on Thain, I have found neither. The puzzle is more confounding than ever.
Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum -- If You Desire Peace, Prepare for War
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Insulae Borealis -- Northern Islands: Bjorn's Perspective
Battle for Gudhem, Winter 63
'Oh shit! They're coming!'
That much Bjorn knew already, but men were packed so tight into the Runestones, a place of ancient worship, he didn't know much else. Wet furs, wet armour, weapons gleaming with rain, scowling faces running with water. The stones themselves were streaky shadows, ghosts beyond a forest of jagged spears. Spit and splattering whisper of drops on metal. Crash and clang of steel echoing from the slopes, shouts of battle muffled by the downpour.
A great surge went through the crowd and Bjorn was lifted right off his feet, kicking at nothing, dumped in a mass of punching, jostling, shouting men. Took him a moment to realise they weren't the enemy, but there were a lot of blades poking every which way even so and it didn't have to be a Telborean Legionnaire to stick you in the fruits. Hadn't been a Legionnaire sword killed Arne, had it?
Someone elbowed him in the head and he staggered sideways, was knocked by someone else and onto his knees, a trampling boot squashed his hand into the mud. Dragged himself up by a shield with a dragon's head painted on it, owner not best pleased. Man with a beard roaring at him. Battle sounds were louder. Men struggling to get away or get towards. Men clutching at wounds, blood run pink in the rain, clutching at weapons, all dripping wet and mad on fear and anger. By the dead, he wanted to run.
He wasn't sure if he was crying. Just knew he couldn't fail again. Stand with his crew, that's what Ragnar said, weren't it? Stand with his Chief. He blinked into the storm, saw a flash of Ragnar's black standard flapping, soaked through. Pressed towards it between the jerking bodies, boots slithering in the churned-up slop. Thought he caught a glimpse of Asger's snarling face. Heard a roar and a spear came at him. Not even fast. He moved his head to the side, far as he could, straining with everything he had, and the point slid past his ear. Someone squealed in the other one, dropped against him, warm on his shoulder. Grunting and gurgling. Hot and wet all down his arm. He gasped, wriggled his shoulders, shrugging the corpse off, working it down towards the mud. "Shit. Shit shit shit."
Another surge in the crowd and Bjorn was dragged sliding to the left, mouth open as he fought to stay upright. Warm rain spattered his cheek, the man in front of him suddenly whisked away and he was left blinking at space. A strip of mud, covered with sprawled bodies, and rain-pocked puddles, and broken spears. And on the other side of it, the enemy.
He closed his eyes for a moment, breathed in the wet, cold air. "Should've stayed a carpenter," he whispered. But the sword had been the easier choice. To work wood you need all manner of tools – chisels and saws, axes great and small, nails and hammers, awls and planes. To be a killer you just need two. A blade and the will. Only Bjorn wasn't sure he had the will any more; in fact, he was pretty sure he had pissed himself. Who wouldn't? Ten thousand Telborean Legionnaires pushing forward would make Thor Himself piss his breeches. He squeezed his fist tight around his sword's wet grip, the roar of battle growing louder and louder, binding with the roar of his own breath in his ears, the roar of his own heart pumping. Choices made. And he gritted his teeth, and snapped his eyes open.
The crowd split apart like a timber down the grain and the Telboreans boiled from the gap. One barrelled into Bjorn before he could swing, their shields locked together, boots slithering in the mud. A glimpse of a snarling face, managed to tip his shield forward so the metal rim dug up into a nose, and back, and up, gurgling, whimpering. Dragging at the shield strap with all his strength, jabbing with it, stabbing with it, growling and spitting with it, grinding it into the man's head. It caught the buckle on his helmet, halftore it off. Bjorn tried to twist his sword free, a blade whipped past him and took a great chunk out of the man's face. Bjorn left sliding in the muck, nothing to push against.
Spears pushing every way, a random, rattling, slippery mass. The point of one slid slowly down wood and into a hand, and through it, skewering it into someone's chest and pushing him down into the muck, shaking his head, no, no, fumbling at the shaft with the other hand as the merciless boots thumped over him. Bjorn prodded a spear-point away with his shield, stabbing back with his sword, caught someone under the jaw and sent his head jerking up, blood gushing as he fell, making a honking note like the first note of a song he used to know. Behind him was a Telborean woman wearing the most beautiful armour Bjorn ever saw, carved all over with gleaming golden designs. And the woman's face was even prettier than her armour. Golden hair and the largest pair of emerald eyes he'd ever seen. Could've been one of Odin's Valkyries except she was on the wrong side of things. She was beating away at the Chief with a gleaming sword, had managed to drive him to his knees. Stand by your Chief. Bjorn stepped up, roaring, boot hammering down in a puddle and showering muddy water. Cut mindlessly across that lovely breastplate, edge scoring a bright groove through all that craftsmanship and sending its owner lurching. Forward again, stabbing as the golden woman turned, Bjorn's blade grating against the bottom edge of her armour, but causing little injury. By the Midgaardsworm, was she invulnerable? Bjorn struggled with the grip of his sword, hot blood sticky all over his hand, up his arm. His own. Somehow the woman had slipped her blade into his gut in a flicker-second. "Shit shit shit." Face against mud, stubble scratching grass and dirt, own breath rasping in his ear, and Bjorn thought again he should've been carpenter. Choices made, eh? Choices—
Insulae Borealis -- Northern Islands: Cassia's Perspective
Battle for Gudhem, Winter 63
"Telborea Victor! Sol Victor!" roared Cassia, waving her sword towards the Runestones. By the Twelve, she was out of breath. "Onwards! Push!" They had to keep the momentum. The catapult fire had split the Northmen regiments a crack, and they had to push through before it closed. "On! On!" Sh bent down, offering her hand to haul men over the ditch and slapping them on the back as they laboured off uphill again. It looked as if the fleeing Northmen were causing chaos at the drystone wall above, tangling with the defenders there, spreading panic, letting the foremost of Cassia's men clamber up after them without resistance. As soon as she had the breath to do it she followed herself, lurching up the steep slope. She had to push on. Cut down the heathens. Cut down the degenerates. End the war. Sol Invictus wills it.
Bodies. Bodies, and wounded men scattered on the grass. A Northman stared at her, bloody hands clapped to the top of his head. A Legionnaire soldier clutched dumbly at his oozing thigh. A soldier running just beside him made a hiccupping sound and fell on his back, and when Cassia glanced over her shoulder she saw the man had an arrow in his face. She could not stop for him. Could only press on, swallowing a sudden wave of nausea. Her own thudding heartbeat and her own whooshing breath damped the war cries and the clashes of metal down to an endless nagging rattle. The thickening drizzle was far from helping, turning the trampled grass slippery slick. The world jumped and wobbled, full of running men, slipping and sliding men, occasional whirring arrows, flying grass and mud. The stage of war. And all the actors were quickly departing the stage, and this world.
"On," she grunted, "on." No one could have heard her. It was herself she was ordering. "On." If they could only capture the summit. Break the Northmen where they were strongest. Kill the heathens. Kill the degenerates. Kill the war. "Up. Up." Then nothing else would matter. She would no longer have to suffer these Gods-forsaken islands and their Gods-cursed inbred populis. She would be back at the Parthenon, in the warm embrace of the Twelve. "On," she wheezed, "up!" She pushed on, bent over, clawing at the wet grass with her free hand, so intent on the ground that the wall caught her by surprise. She stood, waving her sword uncertainly, not sure whether it would be held by her men or the enemy, or what she should do about it in either case. Someone reached down with a gloved hand. One of her Templars. Cassia found herself hauled up with shocking ease, scrambled over the damp stones and onto the flat top of the spur. The Runestones stood just ahead. Much larger at close quarters than she had imagined, a circle of rough-hewn rocks a little higher than a man. There were more bodies here, but fewer than on the slopes below. It seemed resistance had been light and, for the moment at least, had disappeared altogether. Legionnaire soldiers stood about in various stages of exhausted confusion. Beyond them the hill sloped up towards the summit.
A gentler incline, and covered with retreating Northmen. More of a rout than an organised withdrawal, from what Cassia could gather at a glance. She couldn't fault them. Ten thousand advancing Legionnaires would rout an army of giants. With no immediate peril, her body sagged. She stood for a moment, hands on her knees, chest heaving, belly squeezing uncomfortably against the inside of her wondrous breastplate with every in-breath. Damn thing didn't bloody fit her any more. It had never bloody fit her. It was an ostentatious ornament worn as a symbol, not fit for war or battle. It had nearly cost her when a Northman had slipped his blade past her shield. Cassia looked to the heavens. Dark clouds were amassing in black vortexes and hanging so low one could almost reach up to touch them. Not a splinter of Sol's light would reach these savage soils. By the Twelve, was she tired. Tired of it all. She heaved herself up and pushed on. "Should've been a priestess," she whispered. But the sword had been the easier choice. To preach faith you need all manner of patience – prayers and rites, temperance great and small, wisdom and sanity, poise and foresight. To be a Templar you just need two. A blade and the will. Choices made, eh? Choices—
Island of Thain
The Crossroads, Present Date
Cassia Aurelia Candidus wrote ... Grand-Templar, Pontifex et Legatus Marcus Lucretius,
War is coming to Thain. Battlelines are being drawn as I pen this letter. The Lord of Raven's Watch, Krel Twistback, has announced his annexation of Fort Crater. Under the guise of distraction the Lord of the Watch has moved a thousand or more men to solidify the fort's defenses. In response the City of Steinkreis is mustering to counter-manoeuvre Krel. They are fortifying their presence at the Grey Iron Mine and pouring men there by the hundreds. The horns of war have yet to be blasted, but I recognise the dissonant song of strife when I hear it. War will come to Thain, and soon.
Whomever strikes first will inevitably beat a drum of war that will not cease beating until Mars has claimed his toll in blood and death. Presently a political status quo keeps the two armies from engaging each other, but that balance is fragile. As Fort Crater is located in a territory that, by decree, belongs to neither Steinkreis or Raven's Watch, or any other city, Steinkreis has no legitimate ground to expel the Vandal occupants. But by similar logic I imagine the Kreisians argue Krel had no valid claim to the fort either. Thus they could move large contingents of men to block supply lines to the fort to force the Vandals out. The situation is made all the more tense as the fort occupies a vital strategic location. Several trade arteries cut intersect at Fort Crater. Whomever occupies the fort can therefore potentially stagnate, or dominate, vital trade.
If Steinkreis and Raven's Watch go to war, it will be a war that will embroil the rest of the island. The dwarves of Hammersong have long nurtured hostility toward Krel Twistback. Similarily, I imagine the elves of Feywood to be discontent by Krel's expansionist politics given their realm's proximity to Raven's Watch. Conversely, the Vasheral Islands and the Iron City are likely to side with Raven's Watch.
As you have led a sizeable contingent of Telborean soldiers and templars to the shores of Thain, I take it for granted that you have a vested interest in events that shape the political climate of the island.
I stand by and await your orders.
Sol Victor, Cassia Aurelia Candidus
* * * * *
The Nature of War, Journal Entry, Cassia Aurelia Candidus
"War. The great leveller, the indifferent reaper and the indiscriminate uprooter, displacer and abolisher. War. War never changes...
Let it be immediately noted that it is fallacious to postulate each nation or empire reveres distinct deities. If one were to adhere to such logic, gods would hardly be omnipresent and all-powerful; rather, they would be confined to territorial boundaries much like the mortal men and women that worship them. But gods are, by default definition, transcending of all confines that characterise the mortal man and his land. Thus they exist across nations, realms and spheres of existence.
How come, then, does one nation or empire revere this or that particular deity, ascribing to that deity qualities and characteristics that may not necessarily be replicated in other cultures even if that other culture worships a similar patron; how come does the Imperium revere the solar deity as Sol Invictus, the Lord of Light, the father of civilisation, progress and illuminaiton, and the barbarian tribes of the North think their sun god, or, perhaps, goddess, to be a punishing, vindictive entity who causes crops to burn out of spite and caprice? Do we, in the Imperium, worship a solar deity distinct from sun gods which are worshipped elsewhere? We do not. What we do is revere different aspects of an individual deity and call that deity by another name. Sol Invictus, Iuppiter, Mars, Vulcanus, Iuno... were a theologian from the Imperium to engage in open and unprejudiced discourse with a member of a clergy derived from a foreign culture, there can be no modicum of doubt that these two interlocutors would arrive at more theological similarities than differences; they may call their respective patrons by different names and worship distinct and, at times, opposing aspects of particular deities, but they will acknowledge that there are, indeed, deities that are individually representative of all major aspects that govern life and death. Yet if this is so, why does man wage holy war against his neighbour or some foreigner from far-flung shores?
The perspicacious reader can no doubt arrive at a plausible cause simply by understanding the mortal man's machinations. Man imagines all things in his own image, even gods. Man thus also attributes qualities and quirks which are found in himself to that which he worships. Religion and culture are therefor inexorably intertwined. Verily, acknowledging that one is not exclusive of the other, the judicious scholar will understand why the sun is worshipped differently in the Imperium than it is in the North. The Imperium is built on the foundation of progress, science and expansion. Our sun, then, shines with the light of such: civilisation and conquest. Conversely, the Northmen are steeped in outmoded serfdoms and primitive practices that centre around agriculture. Their sun is one that nourishes and, occasionally, scorches. Our illumines. Ours is Sol Invictus. Theirs is Heimdal or Heimr Darla, the "tree of light." But, essentially, the Imperium and the North worships the same entity. We just worship differently.
Is there, then, such a thing as adequate or proper worship? If the question is objectively engaged, then certainly the answer must be a no, or, rather, a compromise between yes and no. If the above-presented premise is adopted - that religion and culture are mutually dependent - then it follows that a particular religion will organise its practices to suit the cultural heritage from which that religion was birthed. Because most nations have risen from distinct peoples with distinct cultures, and presupposing one nation is not a byproduct of another nation (rebellion, political separation or demographical diaspora), no one religion will truly be a simulacrum of another. One religion may be favourably inclined towards war and death, another may be predisposed towards fertility and peace. One may be incorporating elements from the primal world, another may be advocating the progress of industry. The world of religion is often a reflection of a particular form of state and society; the state, the society, produce religion, which functions to substantiate and enforce the customs of a particular culture and region.
Is religion-making a purely pragmatic practice? Are gods irrelevant if all they do is conform to substantiate a particular society? Yes to the former, no the latter. We know the gods to be very real. The Imperium has been graced by divine intervention twice just this century, both of which have been well-documented. It is entirely feasible that other nations and realms have been similarly visited and influenced by divine entities. But do these entities descend and speak: "Call me Sol Invictus, worship me as the light of your civilisation and wear me upon your tabard as a radiant sun with the face of a man at the centre!" They do not. That is man interpreting the encounter thusly. And, thusly, how we call our gods and the divine properties we assign to them, it is a matter of interpretation.
To Bury the Past
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The Wastes, Thain, Some Weeks Ago
The seared her. It burnt her skin like a torturer’s glowing irons. Cassia cleared her throat, hawked and spat out sand mixed with dry saliva. Her breath was caught mid-throat, a razor brushing against the insides of her trachea with sharp insistence. She was utterly surrounded by a vast expanse of sand, scored by ravines and faults, with mounds of stones and huge, strangely shaped rocks. No, not rocks. Statues of old. High above the carpet of sand hung an enormous, golden, burning sun, turning the entire sky hazy orange, blurring visibility with its admonishing stare and making the air shimmer. The face of Sol, thought Cassia. She closed her eyes. When again she opened her swollen, gummed-up eyelids, she sensed the heat had diminished some, and the dome above, which a short time before had been vibrant yellow, had taken on its characteristic cobalt colour and was remarkably clear, laced with transparent, white strips of cloud. The sun's orb had reddened and sunk lower but was still pouring its undulating, pulsating heat down on the desert. The heat, while diminished, was still largely unbearable. Cassia had heard that those who traveled to the Wastes very seldom returned. She understood why.
Cassia walked. And walked. After the first hour of walking, nothing in the landscape had changed. There was still nothing at all around her apart from sand and stones. There were scrawny bushes here and there, dry and thorny, reaching out to her from clefts in the rocks with their contorted branches. Cassia stopped at the first bush she encountered, expecting to find leaves or young shoots. But the bush only had sharp thorns which cut her fingers. It didn't even have any branches suitable to break off and use as a stick. Life, it seemed, had completely vacated the desert. But she knew better. Faint, but persistent echoes of strange howling reminded her that the Wastes of Thain were very much inhabited by creatures. Creatures, Cassia knew, that would tear her apart the first chance they got. Creatures that towered over twelve feet tall with razor-hook claws and beaks that could sunder a knight's armour. She walked on. Dusk fell quickly. The sun sank over the jagged horizon, and the sky lit up red and purple. As darkness fell, it became cold. At first, she greeted it with gladness, for the coolness soothed her sunburnt skin. Soon after, however, it became even colder and Cassia could barely feel her fingers and toes. She walked quicker, hoping that a vigorous pace would warm her up, but the effort did little to diminish the relentless torture inflicted by the desert. She began to limp. On top of that, the sun had completely sunk below the horizon and it was rapidly becoming dark. The moon, now and then eclipsed by circling shapes of vultures, was new, and the stars twinkling in the sky were mute witnesses to Cassia's shuffling. She was soon unable to see the ground in front of her. She fell down several times, painfully grazing the skin on her wrists. Twice she caught her feet in clefts in some rock or ravine, and only sheer luck saved her from twisting or breaking an ankle. Yet Cassia walked on.
Day. Night. Scorching heat. Paralysing cold.
She sat down on the sand, feeling overwhelming fatigue. She had no idea if she was heading in the right direction. Had there even been a right direction to begin with? Dusk. Twilight. Darkness. Around her was nothing but velvety, viscous blackness. She felt she could reach out and touch it; drape it around herself like a mantle. The cold bit at her joints, forcing her to stoop and tuck her head down into her hunched shoulders. Cassia began to miss the sun, the face of Father Sol, even though she realised its return would herald another onslaught of insufferable heat descending upon the rocks and sand and Cassia. Someone else, anyone else, would then surely have felt the urge to cry and scream, feel the wave of desperation and hopelessness crushing all hope from them. But not Cassia. She walked on.
She found it at dawn. She wasn't really looking for it and she wasn't anticipating it. But she knew this was what she was meant to find. Somewhere, at the heart of the Wastes of Thain, Cassia Aurelia Candidus, formerly Knight-Captain of the Imperial Telborean Templar Order, knelt beside a buried statue. It could have been a statue of a male. It could have been a statue of a female. It was impossible to say as it was completely buried under an avalanche of said, the only thing visible being a protruding hand raised with a sword-in-hand. The arm itself was twenty-seven feet tall. Cassia imagined the whole statue must have been a colossus, its deeds and valour swept under a blanket of sand and rock. Great battles were fought here, in the Wastes, she knew. Angels and men had stood side-by-side to repel hordes of demonic abominations. Later, twin gods had waged war against each other. Light against darkness. But all of that history was now buried under an ocean of yellow. Just like the colossus. No deed or man, or, indeed, god, Cassia thought, nomatter how great, is resilient to the erosion of time.
She dug a hole by the statue's arm. She dug deep. In it, she buried her old armour. Lorica segmentata, gilded and emblazoned with a radiant sun with the face of a man in the middle. The armour that had distinguished her as Templar Imperialis. In it, she buried her old sword. Lux Aeterna. The Eternal Light, a relic believed to have been thrown down from the heavens by Sol Invictus himself. In that hole, Cassia Aurelia Cassius, formerly Knight-Captain of the Imperial Telborean Templar Order, buried a part herself.
New Beginnings, Journal Entry, Cassia Aurelia Candidus
"Is it possible to bury the past? I do not think so. Yet I shall attempt to do so regardless. Literally, at that. Here, in this hole in the sands in the middle of nowhere, I bury my past. I bury my armour and my sword. I renounce my title and I sever my ties to the Imperium and the Imperator. May the blade I tarnished with the blood of thousands never again be held by my hand.
In this hole, I bury my religion. But not my faith. Like wise Gaius Decimus once wrote, the Gods are worshipped differently and by different names by different people. Here, on this island called Thain, Lord Sol is worshipped as Andarus, the Eternal Light.
I vow myself to Thee, Lord Andarus. Through me, Thy eternal light shall shine. Thine shall be the glory."